In traditional Irish music, a “set” is a group of three tunes each played three times. If you go to any of our sessions, you’ll hear lots of sets. Playing on this theme last year, I put together a “set” of ideas that would add a bit of Irish to your holiday celebrations and it was a big hit. To see last year’s ideas click here. And now for this year’s Irish Christmas Set:
Irish Christmas Recipes
Delicious aromas from the kitchen are part of everyone’s festivities, so let’s start with a “tune” of three recipes. (Click the titles on each recipe below to go to the complete directions.)
For adventurous cooks willing to make mincemeat from scratch, here’s the recipe straight from Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe House website. It’s interesting to see what ingredients are in it. But if it’s too daunting to make your own, you can buy it in jars at most grocery stores and from Food Ireland.
Festive Brussels Sprouts
Americans tend to shun Brussels sprouts any time of year, but done well, they can be delicious. And they are very commonly found on an Irish table at Christmas time. Here’s a recipe that could make this particular vegetable a new holiday favorite for you.
Homemade Irish Cream Liqueur
Bailey’s Irish Cream alone or over ice cream makes an easy dessert. You can buy a bottle from your local liquor store or make your own a bit less expensively with this recipe.
Speaking of dessert, in last year’s Christmas post I mentioned Irish Plum Pudding. And this year I can report to you that I bought one and served it flambé. You can see photos of that adventure here.
Irish Christmas Gifts
For our second "tune," let’s go gift shopping. What can you wrap up for your Hibernophile friend who has everything? Here are three ideas.
Irish History Podcast Pins
These badges from the Irish History Podcast celebrate people who played significant roles in the story of Ireland’s past. Purchasing them also helps support a dedicated Irishman’s extremely well-researched and interesting podcast.
Inis Energy of the Sea has become my favorite perfume this year. Based in Co. Wicklow, this small company not only makes a refreshing scent, but also sponsors whale and dolphin conservation programs. It’s available at many local shops, so you can also support local businesses. There’s a store locator on their website.
Lennon's Irish Shop
Lennon's of Schenectady offers a myriad of Celtic gift items in their shop and extensive online store. As longtime vendors at the Great American Irish Festival, they generously donated items for drawings and prizes. Last summer they supplied the prize for our trivia contest.
And as a bonus, a little shameless self-promotion: Craobh Dugan’s music on CDs and digital downloads would make a nice gift. You can buy our Irish and the Erie CD from CD Baby. Or you can buy them directly from Craobh Dugan at our sessions. CDs are $15 (only $10 for Craobh Dugan members) and digital download cards are $10.
Irish Christmas Music
And finally, our third "tune" actually involves music. Here are three selections to add to your holiday playlists. Click the titles to acquire them through Amazon.com, or in the case of the last one, through CD Baby. You may also be able to find the albums, or tunes from them, on your favorite music app like Spotify or iTunes.
The Night Before a Celtic Christmas
Famed tin whistle player Mary Bergin and her band known as Dordán recorded this truly traditional mix of poetry, song, and traditional music for Christmas in 1998.
The Frost is All Over
Irish Central called this album by Kate Rusby “traditional and innovative, historical and modern, and one of a kind.” Here's a sample to listen to:
A Celtic Christmas
Celtic and Irish Music Podcast host Marc Gunn put this compilation album together. Seems like you can’t beat a playlist assembled by an expert like Marc. You can also subscribe to his Christmas music podcast on your favorite podcast app.
I hope you found something in this set of three threes that you can blend into your holiday celebration this year. If this article has made you think of some of your own special finds, please share them in the comments and we’ll include them in our Christmas set next year.
If you’re planning a traditional Irish Christmas menu, there’s one item you can’t do without: the Christmas pudding. And there are two ways to acquire one. You can make it from scratch by assembling 26 ingredients six to eight weeks before Christmas, steaming it for several hours, and letting it cure for weeks. Or you can order one from Food Ireland. Maybe some year, I’ll try the former, with this recipe from the Irish American Mom blog. But last year, and as I’m planning to do this year, I ordered a Mileeven Luxury Irish Christmas Pudding.
Based in Co. Kilkenny, Mileeven is a small honey business run by Eilis Gough and her daughter Sarah. The pudding they make is deliciously rich, dense, and sweet, filled with cherries and almonds, Irish stout and whiskey.
When I found the recipe for Christmas pudding, I also spotted directions for setting the puddling aflame. So I tried it with my purchased pudding. It worked and it was fun!
Here are my photos of the adventure.
One of the first Irishmen to arrive in the Mohawk Valley would go on to become one of the richest and most powerful men in colonial America. He was Sir William Johnson. Born in Co. Meath, he traveled to New York in 1737 at the age of 22. His uncle Peter Warren had hired him to lead a band of 12 Irish families to establish a community on his land near present-day Warrensburgh. Quickly Johnson began to build his fortune through the fur trade and land acquisition. In 1755 Johnson distinguished himself at the Battle of Lake George, which earned him the title of Baronet from King George II of England. (This title has passed down to his descendants to this day. The current Baronet of New York lives in London.)
But more than his growing wealth or his title, it was his extraordinary ability to communicate with the Native Americans that made him a legend of colonial New York. He learned to speak the Mohawk language, had eight children with his Mohawk wife, and was given a name of honor by the Mohawks - “Warraghiyagey” - which in English means, "a man who undertakes great things".
Johnson Hall, his home that still stands in present-day Johnstown, NY, was a place known for generous hospitality with plenty of music and dancing, fine food and drink, a menagerie of pets including dogs, birds, and monkeys, and rooms to accommodate a constant stream of guests.
Johnson died from a stroke while speaking at an Indian conference at his home on July 11, 1774. He left an estate of 170,000 acres of land. Just two years later, his heir, Sir John Johnson, lost it all when American patriots seized it during the Revolutionary War. The marks are still visible on the stairway railing where patriot militia members pounded their rifle butts on the day they took the house.
Photos taken by Sue Romero at Johnson Hall State Historic Site.
Samhain (pronounced sow-in, as in rhymes with “cow in”) is an ancient Celtic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It takes place on October 31 and is the source of many of our Halloween traditions.
Why are ghosts a typical symbol of Halloween? That's because the ancient Celts believed that the division between the realms of the living and the dead was thinnest at Samhain, which would allow the souls of the dead to pass through. Our ancestors built bonfires and offered food to honor their dead loved ones during this festival. They also dressed up in animal skins to chase harmful spirits away. Maybe this is why ghosts found their way into many Irish, Scottish, and English folk songs, which then crossed the Atlantic and inspired American versions.
She Moved Through the Fair
lyrics by Padraic Collum
My young love said to me, "My mother won't mind
And my father won't slight you for your lack of kind"
And she stepped away from me and this she did say:
It will not be long, love, till our wedding day"
As she stepped away from me and she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her move here and move there
And then she turned homeward with one star awake
Like the swan in the evening moves over the lake
The people were saying, no two e'er were wed
But one had a sorrow that never was said
And I smiled as she passed with her goods and her gear,
And that was the last that I saw of my dear.
Last night she came to me, my dead love came in
So softly she came that her feet made no din
As she laid her hand on me and this she did say
"It will not be long, love, 'til our wedding day"
The Unquiet Grave (sometimes called Cold Blows the Wind)
Cold blows the wind to my true love and gently drops the rain
I only had but one true love and in greenwood she lies slain
I'll do as much for my true love as any young man may
I'll sit and mourn along her grave for a twelve-month and a day
When the twelve months and one day was past the ghost began to speak:
"Why sit thou'st here along my grave and will not let me sleep?"
"There's one thing that I want sweetheart, there's one thing that I crave
And that is a kiss from your lily white lips then I'll go from your grave"
"My lips they are as cold as clay my breath smells earthy strong
And if you kiss my cold clay lips your days they won't be long
Go fetch me water from the desert and blood from out of stone
Go fetch me milk from a fair maid's breast that a young man never had known"
'Twas down in Cupid's Garden where you and I would walk
The finest flower that ever I saw is withered to a stalk
The stalk is withered and dry sweetheart the flower will ne'er return
And since I lost my one true love what can I do but mourn?
"When shall we meet again sweetheart? When shall we meet again?"
"Ere the oaken leaves that fall from the trees are green and spring up again"
This lovely resort is the Cape Cod Irish Village in South Yarmouth, MA, and it's the locale of the first prize in Craobh Dugan's fundraising raffle this year. The lucky winner will get to bring a friend and spend October 18-19 enjoying the popular "Get Up Jack" band weekend there along with two breakfasts and a five course dinner.
But if you don't win the grand prize, there are three more that could make you pretty happy too.
Second prize is this genuine 10-inch Waterford Normandy crystal bowl. Valued at $350, it would be a beautiful centerpiece on a holiday table.
Third prize is a $100 gift card to spend on food and drinks at the newly opened Five Points Public House on Columbia Street in Utica.
And fourth prize is this handpainted rustic wooden Irish flag.
We're only selling 1000 tickets for this raffle at just $5 each. The drawing will be held at our September 17th session at Stockdale's Pub in Oriskany. You don't have to be present to win, but it would be fun if you were. To get your tickets, send us an email at UticaIrish@gmail.com. We'll also have tickets available at the Makem & Clancy Duo concert at Five Points Pub on Sept. 12. All the proceeds will help us bring a wide variety of traditional Irish arts performers and teachers to the Utica-Rome area. As always, we are grateful for your support!
On Sept. 12, 2019, fans of Irish music in the Utica, NY, vicinity will have a chance to connect with history and culture in a personal way. On that evening at 7:00pm, Dónal Clancy and Rory Makem will perform at Five Points Public House on Columbia Street in Utica. They are the sons of the legendary Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem. They sing many of the songs they learned from their dads, but they've developed their inherited talents to a high degree themselves too. Many of us have heard of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, but have you ever looked into the details of their story? It's a quite a tale and it all starts with two Irish brothers deciding to seek their fortunes in New York City.
Paddy and Tom Clancy didn’t mean to start a worldwide movement when they arrived in New York City in 1951. They just wanted to be actors. And so they were, landing some roles on and off Broadway and on television. Creative and ambitious, they even started their own company called Trio Productions and rented a theater to produce Irish plays. But that’s an expensive endeavor and they needed to raise some money. What could they do?
How about sing the old songs they learned as kids back in County Tipperary? They gathered some friends and called it the Swapping Song Fair and soon musicians well-known in the American Folk Revival - Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Jean Ritchie - were joining in.
Sometime in 1955, the Clancys met folk music collector Diane Hamilton in New York, and when they heard she planned to travel to Ireland to record rare Irish songs, they recommended she stop by their parents’ house in Carrick-on-Suir. She did, and there she recorded songs sung by several members of the Clancy family including the youngest brother Liam. Her next stop would be the home of Sarah Makem in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, and she invited Liam to join her on the trip. That’s where Liam met Sarah’s son Tommy, which started a lifelong and very productive friendship.
By 1956, Liam and Tommy were also in New York looking for acting jobs and singing with the older Clancys on the side. Later that year Paddy, Tom, and Liam Clancy, along with Tommy Makem recorded their first album together to help launch Paddy’s newly formed company, Tradition Records. It was a collection of Irish rebel songs called The Rising of the Moon. Still focused on their acting careers, they were surprised when the record found local success and they were invited to more and more singing gigs.
In 1959, they recorded their second album, this one drinking songs called Come Fill Your Glass With Us. By this time Liam had honed his guitar skills and Tommy had added his tin whistle and uilleann pipes. This album was a hit and launched them into bigger performances in New York, Boston, and Chicago, but still their group had no real name. They tossed around several ideas but couldn’t agree. Finally a nightclub owner who needed to put something on the marquee decided to just call them The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.
Meanwhile back home in Tipperary, Mrs. Clancy read an article about the freezing wind, snow, and icy conditions in New York and sent the boys cozy Aran sweaters. They gratefully bundled up in them one cold night before going out to a gig in New York. When he saw them, their manager went wild. That was just the look he was looking for! And that is why they wore those same sweaters to their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on March 12, 1961, before an audience of 40 million viewers.
After that night, the musical career of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem (as well as Aran sweater sales) really took off. Soon they had a five-year contract with Columbia Records, a $100,000 advance, and a new record called A Spontaneous Performance Recording, complete with Pete Seeger on banjo. This album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording in 1962. The singing Irishmen could be heard on major radio and television talk-shows and even played an acclaimed concert at Carnegie Hall. In 1962 their touring went international including Ireland, England, Canada and Australia. And they played for President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Their fame and success endured throughout the 1960s partly because their timing fit in perfectly with the American Folk Music Revival, a trend that had started in the 1930s and ‘40s with artists like Pete Seeger and Woody Gutherie and later went on to include performers like Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan.
Dylan, who spent a lot of time with the Clancys in New York in the early ‘60s, said, “Irish music has always been a great part of my life because I used to hang out with the Clancy Brothers. They influenced me tremendously."
And all the great bands we love to hear at Irish festivals today have The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem to thank for the popularity of the genre. Irish author Frank McCourt wrote in 1999 "They were the first. Before them there were dance bands and show bands and céilidhe bands...but not since John McCormack had Irish singers captured international attention like the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. They opened the gates to the likes of the Dubliners and the Wolfe Tones and every Irish group thereafter."
Tommy Makem left the group in 1969 to pursue a solo career and the Clancy brothers went on to perform and record albums in various combinations of family members and friends. Later in the mid-70s, Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem teamed up and performed together for 13 years. And now their sons keep the music going into the second generation, with Finbarr Clancy (Bobby’s son) a member of The High Kings, and Dónal Clancy (Liam’s son) a former member of Danú and Solás, and Rory Makem (Tommy Makem’s son) a member of Makem and Spain.
All this history behind Dónal Clancy and Rory Makem makes their upcoming concert at Five Points Public House in Utica a significant opportunity. It takes place September 12th at 7:00pm with doors opening at 6:00pm, and you can get your tickets right here.
Here's a sample of their music:
The Great American Irish Festival is always a magnificent celebration of culture, music, community, and friendship. And this year was just as epic as ever. Held July 26-28 at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds in Frankfort, NY, it featured 22 bands, a building full of high quality vendors, food and drink galore, heavy games, a 5K race, Irish step dancers, dogs of Ireland, highland pipe bands - and a building full of cultural exhibits and activities which was organized by Craobh Dugan members this year.
In this post you'll get a taste of the action, with lots of photos and videos.
Several members of our group researched and created display boards for the mini-musem exhibit, covering topics like Irish poets, influential local immigrants from Ireland, Gaelic sports, the Irish workers on the Erie Canal, noble Irish women, and political cartoons that showed some of the fierce prejudice that Irish people had to overcome in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Patty Foley created a display about Irish knitting stitches and demonstrated them to festival visitors.
Mike Carroll organized some of his Little Falls Theater friends to perform a traditional medieval mummers' play several times throughout the festival. Naming themselves Mummers Along the Mohawk, they created their costumes and recited their rhyming lines with great theatrical zeal, surprising and amazing all who saw them.
Cindy Wood spoke to festival-goers interested in their Irish ancestry, sharing ideas for genealogical research.
Albany's Two Rivers Gaelic League translated our names into Irish so we could wear them proudly on our own name tags.
Connie Pratt, owner of Art and Vine in Utica, led a Paint and Sip session where more than 20 people created lovely pieces of art. One young girl even used her painting as a place to gather autographs from many of the musicians.
The open session on Saturday sounded amazing with several professional musicians playing with us this year. With just a simple, "Would you like to join us?" these very busy artists were more than happy to play music with their local fans. Playing in the session were: Rose Baldino of House of Hamill, The Byrne Brothers, and Arise and Go.
Have a listen to this small sample:
We also tried another kind of session, this one just for drums. Tapping into a little experience with drum circles, Sue Romero led a bodhrán drum circle for about a dozen people. They brought their bodhráns, djembes, and congas and learned about the health benefits of drumming, drum circle rhythms and Irish beats.
Jim O'Rourke contributed many things to our festival efforts this year, including this demonstration of how a thatch roof works.
A few flash mobs surprised and delighted shoppers in the vendor building thanks to the guidance of Jim O'Rourke and the teachers of Butler-Sheehan Academy of Irish Dance and the Johnston School of Irish Dance. Here's a video of the Johnston School's flash mob on Sunday.
Limerick native Deirdre McCarthy with her husband Jim gave a musical and storytelling performance. And then Deirdre taught us some fun sean-nos dance steps.
The Cultural Building stage was a busy place. Pictured here, The Mighty Craic performs. Later in the festival Gerry Dixon and Donal O'Shaughnessy also played music and told entertaining stories, and Craobh Dugan performed our Irish and the Erie musical-historical program.
We also performed tunes and songs on the Traditional Stage on Sunday.
This is a long list of highlights, but there were even more! We had five entries to the photo contest, which was won by Terry Ann DeLude from Utica. Her black and white photo, number 2 in the photo below, received more than 50 votes.
And 26 people bravely attempted our challenging trivia quiz. Only one person, Carl Finnerty who traveled from Pennsylvania for the festival, answered all the questions correctly and won the Irish blessing throw donated by Lennon's Irish Shop.
All told, it was a fun and fulfilling weekend made possible only by the collaboration and hard work of our dedicated volunteers and the many more volunteers who make the Great American Irish Festival happen, now for the 16th year. Thanks a million to everyone who pitched in planning, creating, performing, presenting, selling raffle tickets, taking photos and videos, setting up, and cleaning up! It was a weekend where memories were made for us and for hundreds of people who attended.